A Printer's Tale

Registered:   15th July 1960
Duration: 18 minutes
Feet: 1607 feet
Board of Trade Certificate number: ​BR/E25574
Production Company: ​Harold Baim Film Productions (London) Limited

More Film Stills: ​at baimfilms.com (opens in new window)
Stream Online: at vimeo (password required)

A visit to one of the largest printing and lithographic works in the world. An interesting look at how the machines work and how much skill is still involved in this industry. 

Title and Credits:  

Told by: ​Ray Orchard
Director of Eastmancolor Photography: Eric Owen
Research: ​B. Powell Jones
Editors: Howard Lanning, Dennis Lanning
Recordedists:​ W. Milner, J. Cape, T. Meyer
Musical Arrangements: M. De Wolfe
Film Processors: ​Rank Laboratories, Denham, England
RCA Recording
Directed by: ​Gerry Levy
Produced by: Harold Baim


Every story has a beginning, and the tale of a printer is no different. The specialized and skilful mixing of ink by hand is our starting point. With a highly concentrated colour content, resins and a holding medium, inks have to be workable on a machine, dry out evenly and never fade.

One pound of concentrated colour could cover 1,000,000in². When final adjustments are needed, mixing is carried out in this way.

As with photographs, a proof is an essential step towards the finished product. The proof of the printing is in the inking.

These are called progressives. They show the progress of colours which have been built up one on top of the other. This picture of the coronation of Elizabeth II will eventually become a jigsaw puzzle.

Printing plates of aluminum alloy have a highly polished surface, which has to be grained or broken down. This is done by the constant movement of glass marbles, carborundum and water.

Before photographing a light sensitive coating solution is poured onto the plate. After photographing the plates are dried.

£40,000 worth of lithographic printing machines. The plates have been secured to the huge rollers. Different coloured inks are applied. The paper is pushed into position.

Switch on. The machine roars into life.

Each colour is exactly in position, giving a true register. 5000 sheets pour out automatically every hour.

Blasts of air separate, vacuum air controls lift. Metal fingers move to and frow in a symphony of mechanical achievement.

Cartons are printed on one sheet. Here is the machine that cuts and creases and stamps out the form of the cartons. Another mechanical marvel!

There is nothing like a dame, and at John Waddington's, no machine has yet been found to do this work more efficiently than the gentle sex. Did I say gentle sex?

30,000 cartons an hour are adjusted into shape, glued together and counted electronically. Makes you sometimes wonder at man's ingenuity.

We pick up a magazine, read it and think no more of it. Let's learn a little more about what it takes. Yes?

The monotype machine converts the written word into typeface like a typewriter, except that the end product is a roll of paper punched with holes. The monotype caster takes over and translates the punched holes into letters of molten lead. These solidify and sentences, paragraphs, punctuation automatically fall into a frame at the rate of 7000 characters an hour.

Letter press machines print from the completed frames and our printer's tale goes on.

The magazine sections have to be folded. They are placed on a moving chain. The machine stitches. They are cut, dispatched and ready for you to read.

Well, now you know about magazine printing, what about posters? And thereby hangs another story. Here you can see the writing on the wall. It's the original artwork, now enlarged, from which the artist makes up a contour map. It's lithography in its most highly developed form.

The final plates are in position and once again the machines roll. This time for the printing of eye-catching posters, without which none of us could answer the 20th century question: “What's new?”

To the guillotine named by the operative Sabrina. Wonder why?

You really didn't think there was so much to it, did you? All this doesn't happen of its own accord. Executive meetings are the order of the day. Policy is decided in the ever changing business of advertising and display.

It's ever changing, alright. Just a short time ago, plastics were unknown. What a new world their discovery opened.

Powdered plastic poured into the extruder machine is turned almost by magic into sheets.

1000 degrees of heat are applied and lids for jam jars appear. Lids for everything.

A circular trimmer smooths the edges.

Look at the variety of plastic packaging that can be achieved for meat or cream, or preserves or pharmaceuticals, and for display.

And here's the daddy of them all. Renault packed bottle making at the rate of 3000 an hour.

Hold everything. That's the function of the product you've just seen being manufactured. We've all used drinking cartons, but what ingenuity goes into the production of the wax containers we use for orange juice and milk? The interesting process of wax carton making is virtually the folding of paper or board into the shape of the container and waxing it. Apart from speed and accuracy, hygiene is the most important factor in this department. The cartons must pass a high quality test to ensure their 100% standard.

The conveyor works 24 hours a day, and in each hour, up to 26,000 cartons take a trip from the machines to the end of the belt.

That was really something. And what knowhow went into the production of the machines which, in turn, produced the finished product! What constant testing and frequent control goes into the manufacture of something which eventually you just throw away!

That's the end of our printer's tale. One well worth telling. An outstanding story of an industry without which life would just not be the same.


All music should be cleared with 

De Wolfe Music 
Queen’s House 
180-182 Tottenham Court Road